Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:26 pm

“What can we do?  We hustle.  We eat less so our children can eat, we find someone, anyone to borrow money from and then find a way not to repay them.  Everybody is hustling to sell something, make something, grow something, beg, and borrow, … start something, anything to survive.  There is no rest, there is no peace” (Umlazi, Durban 21 January 2021).


Throughout the past five months, the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) has been tracking the skyrocketing cost of groceries in South Africa…

There’s little relief for struggling families, as this month’s data showed yet another increase. According to the PMBEJD’s latest Household Affordability Index, families are now paying an average of almost R200 extra per basket since it first began tracking the data five months ago.

And this is for ESSENTIAL items, not luxuries.

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The data tracks prices from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries, in Johannesburg (Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow), Durban (KwaMashu, Umlazi, Isipingo, Durban CBD and Mtubatuba), Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Delft and Dunoon), Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape).

According to the data, the average cost of the Household Food Basket for January was R4 051,20. This is an increase in R48,78 from December 2020 and a whopping R194,86 increase from September 2020.

“The average cost of the Household Food Basket in January 2021 is now at its highest level since the start of the expanded collection in September 2020,” says Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator at PMBEJD.

One of the most concerning observations from the research is that it is CORE foods which have been driving the increases over the past five months. These include maize meal (15%), rice (3%), cake flour (3%), white sugar (5%), sugar beans (33%), samp (7%), cooking oil (4%), potatoes (4%), onions (2%), and white and brown bread (4% and 4%).

Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group [PMBEJD]Household Affordability Index

Women are making massive sacrifices to feed their families

“Women tell us that they recognise that the pandemic will be with us for another year; and they are on their own now,” says Abrahams. When they were able to rely on the emergency government relief grant, it offered a small cushion. But what now?

“Women will delve deep into their resources and talents, their relationships and connections and find a way to survive.”

Family nutrition is compromised

The long-term effects of the increase in the costs of these staple foods is that there is less money left for supplementary foods like eggs, dairy, meat and fish. Fresh vegetables and fruits are also put at the bottom of the list.

This can lead to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals, eventually leading to illness and other health-related complications.

“The higher Rand-value cost of a basket of food has become unaffordable.  It has breached the level of the National Minimum Wage, which in January 2021 is R3 321,60,” says Abrahams.

Where does this leave hungry households?

Most of the financial support made available by government to support families during the initial stages of the pandemic was withdrawn in October 2020 – it lasted just 6 months,” says Abrahams.

“The R350 Covid Relief Grant, which is so little, but shockingly so important, ends in 4-days’ time. Government has chosen to withdraw support in the middle of a pandemic when almost nothing has gone back to normal and almost everything has got worse.”

Family meals & finances – How skyrocketing grocery prices are affecting our kids’ nutrition

Some moms have managed to make a plan through Stokvels

“Women who were able to keep up with stokvel payments, say their families are in a much better position than families who were not able to do so,” notes Abrahams.

“Most stokvels survived 2020 and women tell us that they were able to carry on making payments by sacrificing their own health and nutrition needs and using some of the social grant top-ups on Child Support and Old-age Grants.  Using their own strategies and saving part of the 6-month top-ups, women have been able to build up some resilience.”

“However, the ‘grace period’ will end in February, and after this time, women tell us – things are going to be very hard as many more families are going to find themselves very hungry.”

Government needs to act NOW

“If the state does not act now and act big to spend and to support those in need, it is likely that our post-pandemic economic recovery will be slower and we will find ourselves in a deeper crisis post the pandemic,” warns Abrahams.

“We will not be able to pay back any debt if our economy, our public service and infrastructure, and society has collapsed.”


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